Monday, January 15, 2018

Back to it?

All summer holidays must come to an end, sooner or later. In New Zealand, time was nearly the entire country shut down from Christmas until the end of January, but those days are over. Mostly. And not for me.

As it happens, I don’t go back to work until the beginning of February, thanks to the arrangement of dates and the fact the project I work on every month skips January. It’s a good chance for me to get some projects done around the house, and every year I set out to do that. Sometimes I even succeed. This has already been one of those years.

Last week, I talked about my office reorganisation project, and the barriers to completing it. I didn’t mention one weird obstacle: I couldn’t find a Sharpie, and I knew we had at least four—somewhere. Today I went and bought a different sort of marker (only because the store didn’t sell Sharpies), and I was ready to finish that part of the project.

I wanted the marker so I could write on a scrap piece of paper what years were in the plastic box, which I then folded and faced outward so the signs could be read theough the transluscent plastic. So today I finished the re-boxing of all those receipts and statements I’d sorted, and I even wrote down the destuction date so I don’t have to do the arithmetic later on (because, reasons).

Now, I have little bits of detritus to box up, something I started this afternoon. These are things I want to keep (like political ephemera, for example, something I’ve collected for decades, though I have virtually nothing left of what I had in the USA), but that I don’t need close at hand. That’s a small job, really, and something I’ll complete tomorrow.

In the first few days of the new year, a friend mentioned on Facebook that he was seeing a lot of stuff about decluttering in his newfeed and he wondered why. I pointed out that he was probably seeing it because getting organised is a common New Year’s Resolution. But, in truth, decluttering has been popular on various Internet sites—especially Pinterest and YouTube—for a long time now.

There are a lot of different approaches to this sort of thing, such as, some people merely want to be better organised, as they define that, others want less “stuff”, among other things. As a 22-year-old, I was intrigued by Henry David Thoreau and his talk of people possessing no more than they could carry on their backs. He also coined, “simplify, simplify”, though I think most people wouldn’t take that to mean eat only once a day or have only five plates as he did. Still, the ideas are interesting, if somewhat difficult to achieve in the modern world.

Today I saw a somewhat extreme variations on this “simplify” riff. Called “Swedish Death Cleaning”, it’s basically about getting rid of more and more stuff, starting around age 50, so that our children don’t have to spend hours after we die going through stuff that means nothing to them. I had two completely different reactions to this notion.

First, I frankly resent the assertion I have a moral duty to live like a monk in order to make things easier for my survivors. I have no children, so chances are that if I’m the last one to go, it’ll be some company hired by my estate executor and paid to come in and look for things of value to sell, everything else going to the tip. How is that my problem, and who am I inconveniencing? It’s not, and no one.

My other thought was that—up to a point—this makes some sense. It’s always good to get rid of truly useless stuff, and a good idea to leave explicit intructions as to how to get rid of anything for which we have very specific wishes. If anything. Mainly, though, I want to get rid of stuff and simplify for MY sake.

I often think of the quote from William Morris, a Victorian textile designer and artist (among other things…) who said: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

I often think of this when I see home renovation/decoration stuff, whether on TV, the Internet, or in a magazine. I think about it most frequently when I see the artwork used, often chosen for colour alone, and I think, why?! Sometimes useful things can be beautiful (however we define that), but what we personally think is beautiful is all that matters. To me, Morris’ Golden Rule is always useful when decorating, and also when deciding what to keep and what to discard.

Except when it’s not.

I often remind Kiwis that when they need to connect with earlier phases of their lives, especially childhood and young adulthood, they can easily do so: They can visit the town where they grew up, the schools they attended, the houses where they lived. I can’t do that without spending thousands and thousands of dollars and days—maybe weeks—of my time.

Instead, I have three boxes and bit more.

In this reorganising I’m doing, the stuff I’ve accumulated in the past 22+ years is fair game, but anything before that? Out of bounds. Forbidden. Getting rid of stuff and reducing the weight (literal and figurative) of that stuff is a worthy goal, but life touchstones do matter to most of us, and for me they’re contained within three boxes (and a very few books)—three boxes that aren’t going anywhere. Some day my executors can worry about them.

I’ve actually—What? Enjoyed?—this process of getting rid of stuff. It’s liberating. I can see how my office space, once emptied of junk, will make it easier for me to feel creative and to do something about it. These have been goals for years, and they are now within reach.

And the best part is that my summer break isn’t even over yet.


rogerogreen said...

I don't know if you saw the link to the strip near the bottom of my post yesterday. http://www.rogerogreen.com/2018/01/16/b-bereavement-midst-loss/ And I laughed - "For want of a Sharpie..."

rogerogreen said...

Your PM hasn't called anyone names lately. She needs to step it up! https://www.msn.com/en-nz/news/national/prime-minister-jacinda-ardern-is-pregnant-expecting-child-in-june/ar-AAuRH7p

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Some of the Grumpy Brigade in NZ are calling her names about this news, so it all evens out... 😕